We must have some.
It’s the only explanation for the way things are. The way we are.
I’m reading Llosa in the lounge at the nursing home where my mother lives now. They tell me she is dying. So I am here, in town, to visit once, a first and last time. Even though she will not know me. Actually, because she will not know me. If she did, she’d throw me out.
We are like the Machiguenga Llosa writes about. The people who walk. Those indigenous Amazonians whose lives are so in flux even their language lacks words for permanence. Names change. Some days, like today, I might be “the one who arrives.” Some days, like today, she might be “the one who departs.” Possibly one day we were mother and daughter, but if either one of us remembers that, neither admits to it.
But, if there were that time, and we were of the Machiguenga tribe, who also do not differentiate present and past particularly, then that time is also now.
I set the book on the table beside my uncomfortable, plastic chair. I am confused enough without it.
When they finally ready her for viewing, a nurse motions me to the door down the hall where her room is. It smells of stale urine and disinfectant and is awash with the moans of grandmothers. I remember this much about my mother: she would have hated it here even more than I do.
Any old lady.
Hair gone soft and pale in the morning sunlight. A little sea of albino grasses making a nest for her head. Which looks like an egg. Smooth and a little bit hard. Like if I flicked it with my fingernail, it might crack. Even the eyelids, perfect petal ovals over those eyes that held, and shone back, every single thing I ever did wrong in my entire life. Do ancient Peruvian Indians hold grudges? Believe in vengeance? Because the old lady under the sheet there, she does.
And it sounds like, so do I.
But she is my mother, and this is a goodbye, so I force my feet forward. Stand at her bedside. Her wasted body makes barely a ripple under the white, white sheet. Only her arms are out from under. Long and bony and swathed in pink silk that ruffles around her wrists.
My mother was not a ruffle kind of girl.
She wasn’t pink, either.
Now that she is both, does that make her someone else? Someone who might love me? Someone I might love?
I reach out a tentative fingertip.
Stroke the top of her blue-bruised hand.
And suddenly it moves, opens, clutches.
I jump back as if snake-bitten. But I am too slow and the bouquet of clawing fingers fastens on my wrist. Holds me there while the eyelids shed their skin. Pop open. Find mine.
The four eyes, all the color they used to call hazel, search like the hazel prong you use to witch water. Prod deep. Find…what? You want me to say each other’s soul? Forgiveness and redemption?
Truth is, I don’t know now, and I didn’t know then. Just felt the impossible lock of her impossible look. Just like always. Pinning me like a bug in a display case. Saying, my way or the highway, girlie.
The only difference was, I stayed. Didn’t walk away like Llosa’s Machiguengas. Held it. That crazy lady gotcha gaze. So this time she’s the one who left town without saying goodbye.
Ruth Ann Dandrea is an English teacher who co-authored WOW: Women on Water, published by North Coutnry Books. About Those Tests I Gave You, appeared in both Rethinking Schools and Pencils Down. Her most recent fiction publication was Equinox in Thema’s spring 2012 issue.